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How To Deal With Online Negativity When You’re A Business

Author: Karli Ostle

Published date: 2018/10

Blog Graphic How To Deal With Online Negativity

As a recruitment agency, we get our fair share of negativity when it comes to providing our service. In spite of Fetch working hard to address the negative bias toward recruitment by focusing on building relationships and being transparent in our approach, the ingrained mistrust of recruiters means we still face a lot of backlash. In crafting our policy around how we deal with negativity online, our Marketing Manager, Karli Ostle, thought it might help the businesses we work with and our candidates who work hard to build their personal brand, to arm themselves with some strategies in how to deal with online negativity. Read on!

As a business or an individual working to build your personal brand, your online persona can make or break you. While you can carefully manage your branding and messaging, it can often seem like you lose control over your image through negative comments & poor online reviews that are publicly visible to everyone. When you have put your heart & soul into your business or brand image, this can seem like the end of the world.

But don’t panic! Below are a few tips to help you deal with the disgruntled customers and professional trolls in a way that will make you feel empowered and come out smelling sweeter than ever!

The Bad Review

The rise of online review platforms has made it easier than ever for businesses to leverage customer recommendations to their full advantage. With people more likely to buy a product or use a service from a business with good online reviews, it can be a great marketing tool for brands when used effectively. But there is a downside.

If you have Facebook or Google Reviews set up for your business (and you should), you are bound to get the odd bad review. They happen even when you work tirelessly to provide value & quality for your customer. These are usually borne from one of two things: you have a customer who has not got what he or she expected, or it’s fake.

The Fake Review

Let’s deal with the fakers first. These can be written anonymously by a competitor who is hoping to bring down your star rating so they look better, or by someone who has appropriated someone else’s account in order to spread some hate (lovingly known as a ‘troll’). Unless you are a solely bricks & mortar business where you can’t track the names of your customers, these will be easy to spot because you won’t know them, recall doing business with them, or be able to look them up in your system.

How to deal with the Fakers

Respond to the review politely as if it is real (acknowledge their feedback, state that you strive to provide excellent service / high quality at all times, etc.) but mention that you don’t recall doing business with them. Ask them for some details such as an order or membership number so you can look up their record. If it is indeed fake, you won’t get a response (or you’ll get a very confused & bewildered response from an account owner who doesn’t know they’ve written a review for a business they didn’t use!). You can report these to Facebook or Google if you wish, who may or may not choose to remove it on your behalf, but regardless, your future customers will see that you have dealt with the feedback professionally & proactively, and that 1-Star review was very much a one-off!

The Real (Bad) Review

If your poor review is from a genuine customer who has taken some kind of offense to your product or service and leapt on to a review platform to vent their frustration, rather than see this as the end of the world you can choose to see it as an opportunity to improve.

How to deal with the real ones

Respond publicly & sincerely. If it is a genuine failing on your behalf, whether through a lack of quality control or a failure of process, acknowledge it and then state what you are doing to fix it.  If you know you have done everything in your power to ensure that customer has had a positive experience with your business, and through circumstances beyond your control something has not gone well, acknowledge their frustration, empathise with them, tell them what you are doing to help address the issue for them, and let them know you will keep them in the loop with any developments. Ultimately, people just want to be heard. By addressing these reviews in a public, polite manner, future customers will see your commitment to service and the respect you have for your current customers, and judge you fairly.

The Drainers

Then of course there are the cases where the customer is genuine, but has been nothing but unreasonable, and possibly rude & disrespectful to you through the whole process. There is likely nothing you could have done that would have saved you from their online evisceration, because being a jerk is their part time job. These are possibly the trickiest ones to deal with.

How to deal with the Drainers

Your natural reaction is always to bite back and defend yourself in these situations. Don’t. They are looking for a reaction. Don’t give them one. Respond publicly, in a simple and polite manner. Tell them you are sorry that this is the experience they had with your business, and reiterate that the majority of your customers walk away feeling happy & positive. Suggest (politely) that perhaps you weren’t the product / service they were looking for, and that you wish them better success in the future. If most of your reviews are positive, your future customers won’t take too much notice of a review that is blatantly nasty and probably personal in nature.

Things to remember about reviews

  • By nature, people will generally only review your business if they have had a really great experience or a really bad one. That’s why the majority of your reviews will be 5-Star or 1-Star. If it was average or unmemorable, they probably won’t bother. Just focus on providing the best quality product & highest service possible at all times, and it’s likely you won’t go too wrong.
  • Unless your reviews are blatantly fake, don’t waste your time trying to get them deleted. It’s an annoying, often futile, process and in the end it is much better to show your potential customers how proactively & respectfully you deal with negative feedback. People pay attention to this. However, after commenting on a genuine customer’s bad review, if there is a bigger conversation to be had in order to reach a resolution, take it offline into a private chat, email or phone call. Respond, but don’t air your dirty laundry if it’s avoidable.
  • If you have a few 1-Star reviews that are bringing down your average rating and you are worried about it, rally some friends or family to write a few positive reviews for you to counterbalance them. But do tell them to be genuine (it’s even better if they are or have been a customer of yours in the past!). People can smell lack of authenticity a mile off.


The Negative Comment

As a business, being able to build your social media platforms & communities is so valuable in terms of brand awareness, reach, loyalty & influence. However, social media has created a situation where everyone has a voice. That can be problematic as a brand when in order to access the marketing opportunity that it provides, you are also opening yourself up to constant comment & critique.

It’s almost inevitable that you will receive some negativity from a disgruntled customer, shade from a competitor, a diss from someone who didn’t like your Instagram photo (or the FB article you shared, or the fact you chose the wrong form of there / their / they’re, or that your product or service is no way up to their high-falutin’ standards despite the fact they are not your target audience), or a nasty, uncalled for comment from someone you don’t even know. It can be a nightmare to navigate the choppy social media waters, so here are some strategies for dealing with the comments section.

When it’s from a genuine customer with a genuine issue

Deal with this in a similar manner to how you would deal with a bad review. Acknowledge it publicly, empathise with them over the bad experience, and offer to help resolve it. Then take it offline. Trying to resolve a customer service issue in the comments section of a post will only serve to annoy the rest of your engaged community who will get fed up with all the notifications.

When it’s someone who has taken issue with your product or service based on their own ideals / morals / values

These types of comments can range in severity from the passionate vegan who takes issue with your meatball recipe, to the fitness fanatic that low-level fat shames you, to the candidate who had a bad experience with a recruitment company once and now hates all of them (common for us!).

If the comment is genuine feedback on what’s in your product or the values of your service, take it as an opportunity to address it. You might learn something you hadn’t taken into consideration. Don’t be afraid to voice your own values & ideals here either. Just because someone doesn’t agree with you doesn’t mean you’re wrong. It just means they’re not your ideal customer. Always be polite & respectful, but focus on targeting your tribe and don’t worry too much about the detractors.

If it is a middle-range jab at your product or service because it’s not up to scratch according to that particular person, thank them for their feedback and state that you have found your customers to be very happy with their experience. You can end by saying that you are always looking for ways to improve, so their view is appreciated. And leave it at that. Don’t become defensive, just try to diffuse the situation.

If it is borderline bullying, there are a couple of things you can do. Calmly state that you do not tolerate that kind of language / behaviour on your social platforms, and direct them to your online community guidelines should they wish to have a look (every business should have these). Finish by saying that if they do have any constructive feedback that it is very welcome and you would love to connect and discuss. If they keep going, and the feedback is neither constructive nor warranted, you can choose to ignore it or block them.

When it is obvious, trolling behavior

When the comment is personal in nature, nasty, and uncalled for, you can choose to ignore it dependent on the severity. That person is just trying to get a rise out of you. Don’t let them. However, when the comment breaches the platform’s (or your own) community guidelines, by including discriminatory language, actively defaming your brand without cause, personally threatening you or a member of your community, or other such hateful behaviour, then you should report it, delete the comment, and block them immediately.

Things to remember about comments

  • Unless the comment is particularly offensive & a breach of guidelines, don’t delete it. It’s important that your community sees how you deal with criticism & negativity, and for the most part they will love you all the more for being a good & imperfect human. Also, deleting a comment can often add fuel to the fire of the commenter, making them feel unheard and the situation even worse.
  • Take some negative feedback as an opportunity to open a dialogue. Is there something you hadn’t considered about your ingredients, supply chain or service delivery that you can take on board? A way of doing business that will streamline your processes and make the journey easier for your customers? An ethical consideration you hadn’t thought of? This is all really valuable, so try and treat is as such.
  • Try to develop some community guidelines or house rules, so your audience know what you will tolerate and what you won’t. It establishes boundaries and gives you a place to refer people if they get out of line. It’s not legally enforceable, but shows you’re serious about the online wellbeing of your staff & community.
  • Don’t encourage your community to fight your battles for you. It is common when you have built a loyal fanbase for them to take on the role of defender and protector but this will only escalate the situation, and staying silent while a comment war is being waged on your profile is the same as condoning it. Deal with the core issue / commenter as swiftly as possible, thank your followers for their support but state that you would prefer they didn’t put themselves in a situation where they could get in trouble.

These are just a few strategies for helping you deal with negativity online, that you can use yourself or show to your social media manager. Just remember to be polite, be respectful, and be honest, and you should have no problems!


Karli Ostle is the Marketing Manager at Fetch Recruitment. She has a background in Communications and Digital Marketing, and has seen her fair share of online nastiness! You can connect with Karli on LinkedIn here.